Blair Currie
Feb 18, 2014

Are machines more trustworthy than people?

We grew up trusting people, but this trust is increasingly shifting to technology, reflects the author.

Are machines more trustworthy than people?


Most of us grew up in a world where we trust people. Not all people. But certain people. But increasingly we are shifting our trust to technology. What are the limits to this trust? Should they be measured?

A. Trust in human institutions and people

Human beings trust those who are reliable, truthful, able and strong. Trust also seems to relative and subject to change. It can be gained or lost quite quickly. That’s why it’s interesting to track the Edelman Trust Barometer , a survey that measures relative levels of trust across businesses, governments, the Media and NGOs, over time.

A good example of relative trust compares the confidence in government versus business.  People in Asia generally trust business leaders more than politicians; however, in South Korea, the citizens trusted government over business by more than 13 per cent in 2013. This is unusual given the recent declines in trust in South Korean government, since the financial crisis.

Edelman’s data also shows that within businesses, Technology companies are the most trusted of all institutions (77 per cent), with automotive being the second most trusted (69 per cent), while financial services (50 per cent) and banks (50 per cent) were the least trusted in the survey.

Delving deeper into the data, the trust for leaders is quite low, with only a small percentage of the population trusting CEOs (18 per cent) and government leaders (13 per cent). Edelman rightly concludes that these leaders suffer a crisis of confidence.  

B. Trust in peers and the crowd, due to a trust in the process.

One way Edelman suggests that business and government leaders redeem themselves, is to merge top down directives with bottom up initiatives from ordinary people.  While this is logical and correct, it’s not new thinking. Since the rise of social media, top down has been forced to merge with bottom up sentiment, providing a balance of power.  While correct, this oversimplified solution misses other emerging trends of trust.  It also does not explain why there has been a shift in trust to the crowd.

Closer examination shows that a shift in trust from institutions and people to a trust in peers and the crowd is that people have began to trust the processes over the sources of information.  To see this, consider why people trust Wikipedia. They trust how Wikipedia is constructed vs. the contributors themselves. The trust comes from the fact that the posts on Wikipedia are visible and open to critique.

While social media generated a significant shift in trust, a new champion of trust, is about to emerge.

C. Trust in technology itself.

In his fascinating book, What Technology Wants , Kevin Kelly describes technology as a living being that has desires of its own. It turns out that many people also attribute technology to having human characteristics, and have increasing belief in its reliability, truth, ability and strength.   

The basis of trust in technology starts with the high level of confidence in technology companies themselves, which hinges on the reliability of the products and services they deliver.  For example, we trust Google because it successfully delivers excellent results for our search queries. That said, we also trust Google’s delivery of a myriad of other technology products and services including advertising services, alerts, analytics, app stores, autonomous vehicles, books, dictionaries, language and translation tools,  maps, and mobile platforms (Android).

The success of many technology companies – Apple, Baidu, Fujitsu, Google, IBM, Microsoft, Samsung, and Yahoo! – helps us trust in technology itself.  As a result, we trust the Intelligent Cities, intelligent transportation systems and the intelligent car, that are powered by these technology companies, more than we trust any institution or individual. After all, computers don’t make mistakes!

D. What does this mean for business?

Smart businesses and governments are starting to understand the growing trust in technology and are learning to use it to their advantage.  They are starting to embrace and promote technology, as it is becoming the most trusted advisor for consumers.

A good example of leveraging consumer trust in technology can be seen in the automotive business, the second most trusted industry according the Edelman’s worldwide Trust Barometer in 2013. This is clearly due to the increasing reliability, truthfulness, ability and strength of automotive OEMs.

Most new cars today are equipped with the technology that allows these vehicles to diagnose themselves. New vehicles can “tell” us when they have been driven too harshly or when it will require maintenance e.g., increase in tire pressure to an oil change.  We trust cars because they are loaded with technology and function so well.

That said, the institutions of the automotive ecosystem, are less trusted than the vehicles themselves. Part of this is due to the fact that they are more “human”. But also OEMs, dealers, and aftermarket service providers, have engaged in a self interested battle to get consumers to spend more on post sales service.

Within this battle they are pushing consumers to spend on more and more to keep their vehicles in good health. They often do so with conflicting messages. For example the automobile OEMs recommend oil changes every 10,000 to 12,000 kilometers, while the dealers and aftermarket players suggest this every 5,000 to 6,000 kilometers. As a result of self interest and mixed messaging, consumers have started to lose trust in the traditional players. People know they are being taken and trust the technology more than this institution. Rather, they are starting to trust vehicles more than OEMs, dealers or aftermarket suppliers.



So what should OEMs, dealers and the aftermarket do?

One key thing the automotive ecosystem can do is to consider the ongoing needs of drivers. (Maslov’s hierarchy of needs).

One idea is to introduce and/or utilize the technology within the vehicle. This can be done through embedded intelligence in the newest vehicles. But increasing this is done via plugged in intelligence through the onboard diagnostics port or via mobile telephones or a combination of the two. These will help provide alerts to drivers and keep these players involved in the value chain.

In other words, the automotive value chain should shift from a model of vehicle sales and maintenance to one of use the automobile as a platform for selling services that have re-occurring revenue such as Roadside assistance, Satellite radio, Usage based insurance etc..




As technology and intelligence improves, machines will rival institutions and people – whether these are peer groups or the overall crowd – as trusted sources of advice.   Machines will become more trusted than men because their agendas will be limited (albeit currently programmed by humans) and there will be increasing believe in the process of how machines are programmed to make decisions.

This post isn’t to suggest that machines will rule – because they will not replace human beings in areas where judgment and ethics are concerned. But until the judgments and ethical behaviour of men improves, trust in machines will grow.

Perhaps Edelman will measure this in the next Trust Barometer which is probably about to be put in field for release in early 2014.

Maybe next year?

The Rising Sun
February 15, 2014

Senior leader with solid track record managing creative, digital and media agencies across Asia Pacific (from bases in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, Vietnam, and Dubai), Canada and the US. Over Over 25 years experience building FMCG and Technology brands. Blair now works as VP Marketing for a global "Connected car" company.


Campaign India

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